The Free Project (Deluxe Version)
Enon Music Group (release date: September 25, 2020)
By Robert M. Marovich
From the spoken introduction, gospel singer San Franklin makes it clear that her debut solo CD, The Free Project, is about breaking free from self-bondage, from the chains of doubt, fear, and analysis paralysis we wrap around ourselves.
After years of standing “twenty feet from stardom,” Franklin enters the spotlight for the entire program, demonstrating the vocal versatility that has made her a favorite featured vocalist. Even her act of stepping forward to occupy center stage fits with the CD’s freedom trope.
Songs that reinforce the theme include “Faith,” an energetic affirmation about what is needed to break the shackles of self-bondage. “I Choose Free” is an R&B-style ballad that communicates the fear and anxiety of stepping forward. “Do you be brave and take a chance on something never felt before,” Franklin asks, “or do you die once more and again?” She delivers the song with a passion forged by having gone through and survived to tell it. By the hypnotic “Decree,” Franklin’s commitment to breaking her chains has reached the point of no return. “I can’t stay here no more,” she declares.
The dramatic “I Believe” is about facing the unknown “by faith, not by sight” On the reprise, Franklin breaks from a conventional vocal delivery and tears into the song, adlibbing like a veteran evangelist. This change of mood stirs up the live recording audience.
“Set My Feet” (the award-winning Jason Clayborn is among the song’s co-writers) has a traditional groove, made all the more so by the call-and response action between a squalling Franklin and the energetic background vocalists. To enhance the song’s church bona fides, Franklin incorporates portions of the classic hymn, “On Christ the Solid Rock I Stand.”
Guest soloists include JoJo Martin, who sings with Franklin on “We Await;” and the COGIC force of nature Chrystal Rucker, who adds vocal gasoline to the fire that Franklin has already set on the churchy, walk-the-aisle “Blessing Me.” This eleven-minute rouser, which transitions into an impromptu altar call, continues on the next track with nearly six minutes of classic “blessing” songs, such as “Savior, Do Not Pass Me By” and “Without God.” Franklin and Lawrence Flowers get downright gospel-bluesy on the worshipful “Been Good,” though the use of a Vocoder is a tad outdated.
The capable musicians offer the hefty and profuse accompaniment that is de rigueur for contemporary gospel today, but their volume is no match for Franklin’s own.
San Franklin’s The Free Project is a prayer service disguised as a live solo effort. It’s exactly what I would have anticipated from this dynamic singer.
Five of Five Stars
Pick: “Blessing Me”